Skip to main content

Full text of "The abbey of St. Albans from 1300 to the dissolution of the monasteries; the Stanhope essay, 1911"

See other formats




University of California. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2008 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 

The Abbey of St. Albans 

The Abbey of St. Albans 

from 1300 to the Dissolution 
of the Monasteries 






O-* f\ 

il6 *? (o 



Introductory . . . . 3 

I. The Revival within the Abbey during the 14TH 

Century . . 11 

II. The Necessity for Dissolution .. 35 

(A) Sketch of the Economic History, 1300-1539 36 

(B) Decay of the Monastic Spirit in the 15TH 

Century . . . . 47 

Appendix. The Account of William Wallingford 
IN the • Lives and Benefactions of the 

Later Abbots ' . . 73 

List of the Abbots of St. Albans from 1300 to 1539 75 

A List of the Chief Authorities . . 76 




In the later Middle Ages the Abbey of St. Albans 
was the most brilliant, though by no means the 
wealthiest,* of the English monasteries. There was 
ample reason for this pre-eminence. Proximity to 
London kept its members abreast of the times and 
freed them from the stain of provincialism, and its 
position on the Great North Road ensured as its 
frequent guests the greatest men in the kingdom. 
Its hospitality became proverbial, and Matthew Paris 
records that there was room in the monastic stables 
for three hundred horses at one time. Always, too, 
there was the glamour of literary greatness as well 
as its association with St. Alban,* England's proto- 
martyr, whose genuine relics by universal consent 
it was admitted to possess. Besides these special 
traits the Abbey bore the usual insignia of exempt 
houses — royal foundation, a wide franchise with 
episcopal jurisdiction, and a place for its abbot 
among the Lords in Parliament. The homage of 
some twelve daughter houses or cells, while not 
increasing its material prosperity, added considerably 
to its dignity. 

* In view of the fact that the Abbey contained sixty monks, 
St. Albans was relatively slenderly endowed. C/. below, p. 23. 

' The shrines of St. Osyth and St. Amphibalus, also at St. 
Albans, were scarcely less famous. 

.4.'...,.... THE APBEY OF ST. ALBANS. 

The growth of the St. Albans legend is proof 
that it was no unconscious greatness the members 
Growth of ^^joy^^- I^ the eleventh century, when 
St. Albans the monastery had become ' the school 
^^^" ' of religious observance for all England ' 
arose the idea of a miraculous origin; it received 
final consecration in the narrative of Matthew Paris. 
Henceforth, it was sober history that King Offa 
founded the Abbey on August ist, 793, when the 
ground opened miraculously, revealing the body of 
the martyr himself with a golden band around his 
forehead inscribed with his name. From this point 
its history was made to run on without a break; the 
names of successive abbots were given with the dates 
of their reigns, and the acquisition of existing pos- 
sessions attributed to various of them by a method 
hidden from us. From a great deal of tradition 
little more can be deduced than that the Abbey was 
of royal foundation and exempt from episcopal juris- 
diction, that it was early endowed with a wide 
franchise, and, by analogy, that morals and discipline 
would be by no means strict in Anglo-Saxon times. 

With the advent of the Norman Conquest we are 

on surer ground. Under Abbot Paul (1077 — 1097) 

the Abbey was purged of the abuses of the Anglo- 

g^ Saxon period and a stricter discipline en- 

of the forced, although only by the loss of 

onquest. ^^q^^^^q^ from episcopal control. The 

monastery was now rebuilt on a more magnificent 

scale, and for nearly two centuries St. Albans was 

a model house. Under the saintly John de Cella 


(1195 — 1214), a Stern ascetic, the House perhaps 
reached its zenith. At no other time were feasts and 
vigils so strictly observed by the monks, who for 
fifteen years gave up drinking wine in order that the 
refectory and dormitory, then ruinous, might be 
rebuilt. During the Norman period St. Albans had 
been endowed by many gifts of manors. On some 
of these cells were founded,* but most of them were 
simply absorbed into the monastic estates, and of 
course brought within the Abbot's jurisdiction. The 
efifect of this territorial enrichment of the monas- 
tery was twofold. First, it tended to subordinate 
religious to secular functions : the Abbot became 
primarily a man of business absorbed in the adminis- 
tration of the estates. Secondly, it attracted the 
covetous glances of needy kings and popes. At the 
very commencement of the thirteenth century the 
Abbot had to face a reorganised Papacy intent upon 
obtaining funds for the realisation of its strong 
political ambitions. The Abbey had scarcely escaped 
the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln^ (1163) when 
it fell under stricter subjection to Pope Innocent III. 
For the future each abbot was to go in person to 
Rome to secure confirmation of his election, that is 
to say to be mulcted in a vast sum of money.* In 

* About twelve cells were founded ; the most important being 
Tynemouth and Wymondham, in Northumberland and Norfolk 

' Gesta Ahhatum I, p. 489. 

' Gesta Ahhatum I. p. 307 ; //, p. 3. Still more oppressive was 
the enactment of a General Lateran Council under Innocent IV, 
by which the Abbot had to visit Rome, either in person or by 
proxy, once every three years. The cost of such journeys and 
the extortion of the Holy See were regarded as a heavy grievance. 


a lesser degree the monastery was menaced by the 
Crown. Every vacancy put the convent at the mercy 
of the King's escheator, who in practice could, and 
often did, exact far more than the sums to which he 
was entitled. Indeed, both kings and popes were 
coming to regard the Abbey as a sure source of 
wealth in any emergency, and they did not scruple 
to multiply excuses for continual exactions.^ These 
dangers of papal and kingly oppression were self- 
evident, but in the gradual disintegration of feudal 
society lay a more subtle peril. The monastery's 
failure to adapt itself to the new system of relation- 
ships which were springing up on lay estates brought 
upon it the further misfortune of unpopularity. 

The disfavour incurred by the attempt to retain the 

manorial system was increased when the organisation 

itself began to show signs of decay. The decline 

^ of religious fervour was followed by a 

of the gradual relaxation of monastic discipline, 

onas ery. ^^^ comparative luxury invaded the 

cloister. After the death of John of Berkhamstead 

in 1301 the extent of the falling off began to be 

apparent. For the next generation the convent was 

in an unhealthy condition. But though weakened, 

the organisation was far from being destroyed. At 

times like this the traditional routine was invaluable. 

The writing of history, for instance, was continued, 

' Istequoque Abbas,' says the chronicler (Gesta Abbatum I, p. 312), 
referring to Abbot John of Hertford (elected 1235), ' in novitate sua 
multis exactionibus fatigabatur et expensis, sed prae omnibus 
Romanorum oppressionibus novis et inauditis coepit molestari.' 
^ See for example, Gesta Abbatum I, p. 397. 


and the period is still known to us by the works 
of John do Trokelowe and Henry de Blaneford, 
contemporary chroniclers. 

At this point our subject begins. The period may 
be broken up into two parts, and a line of division 
is supplied by the year 1396, in which Abbot Thomas 
de la Mare died. Taking our stand, first at 1396, 
and then at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, we 
shall look back over the two periods under review 
and summarize the chief tendencies by which they 
are marked.* 

* The economic history of the Abbey cannot fairly be so 
divided, and will therefore be treated in Section II from 1300 — 


The Revival w^ithin the Abbey during 
the 14th Century 



The Revival within the Abbey during 
the 14th Century. 

The ' fourteenth century revival ' is perhaps too 
dignified a name for the feeble efforts at reformation 
in the majority of English monasteries. Most 
houses failed utterly to arrest the decay that had set 
in during the thirteenth century, and for the rest of 
their existence underwent a slow internal dissolution 
which was merely consummated by the measures of 
Henry VIII. To this rule there were exceptions. 
At Bury St. Edmunds/ for instance, while John 
Tymworth was abbot (1379 — 1390), there was a 
marked revival accompanied by a little outburst of 
chronicle writing. More important was the recovery 
of St. Albans, where a conscious effort towards 
reform is the main thread of its history. The reigns 
of four abbots which cover the first half of the 
century witnessed the restoration of discipline : the 
long abbacy of Thomas de la Mare (1349 — 1396) was 
devoted to the repair of the Abbey finances, which 
had been depleted by the frequent vacancies. The 
steps by which first the rule, and then the finances, 

* Mems. of St. Edmundsbury. Arnold. Vol. in, passim. 


were strengthened indicate considerable continuity of 
reforming purpose in successive abbots. 

The regulations issued by John de Maryns^ (1302 — 

1308) for the reform of the convent and cells reveal 

the extent of the decay. The rule of silence, it 

appears, had been all but forgotten; 

of the swearing had grown common, and 

iscip ine. j^Qj^j^g^ forgetful of their vow of poverty, 
were found to possess private property. In the cells 
the state of affairs was even more deplorable. 
Brethren were known to insult tlie priors, whose 
authority had grown too weak to ensure adequate 
punishment of offenders. Reference is made to the 
existence of immorality in the convent. It was 
necessary to prohibit brethren from intercourse with 
women, from wandering about singly, and from 
drinking in the town. The possession of greyhounds 
for hunting was also forbidden. 

Such was the condition of the convent and cells 
in the first years of the century. Abbot Maryns, 
though willing and anxious to carry out the neces- 
sary reformation, was not strong enough to enforce 
his will upon the monks. Moreover, the penalties 
prescribed for offences in his regulations were wholly 
inadequate, and to this must be attributed the persis- 
tence of the evils which they were intended to cure. 

The decline of discipline during the last years of 
the thirteenth century had been accompanied by a 
loosening of the authority of the mother abbey over 
its cells. It appears that some of them were not 

^ Gesta Abbatum 11^ p. 95. 


prepared to admit even a nominal dependence on the 
abbot. Making as its pretext the huge exactions of 
Hugh of Eversdon (Maryns' successor), the cell of 
Binham/ led by its Prior, William Somerton, and 
supported by the local gentry, broke into open revolt. 
A long contest followed, with appeals to both King 
and Pope, but in the end the abbot was successful. 
The rebellious priory was brought back to its alle- 
giance, and Hugh of Eversdon proceeded systemati- 
cally to extract formal submissions from the several 
cells. A grave feature of the quarrel with Binham 
was the influence exerted by Thomas of Lancaster, 
Sir Hugh Despenser, and various notables who con- 
trived more than once to force the hand of the abbot. 
The interference of laymen in the affairs of the 
monastery is a sure sign of its weakness. 

Abbot Hugh was a poor creature to govern so 
great a House. Avaricious, vain, extortionate, a 
pampered favourite of Edward H, he oppressed the 
cells and exasperated the townsmen. On his death 
in 1327 the latter broke into revolt. The whole of 
England was at this time in a state of anarchy and 
wretchedness only too clearly reflected in the con- 
dition of St. Albans. The House was desperately 
poor and burdened with debt, and the moral condi- 
tion of the monks is admitted by the chronicler to 
have been very low. Degeneracy, in fact, had gone 
to greater lengths than at the beginning of the cen- 
tury. The Constitutions of Abbot Wallingford* deal 

' Gesta Abbatum II, appendix, p. 469. 
* Gesta Abbatum II, p. 130. 


with the most elementary rules of conduct and 
morality, the frequent breach of which could be the 
only reason for their publication. The Abbot, how- 
ever, was a saintly man, and made persistent efforts 
to correct abuses. In a formal visitation of the cells 
he punished severely all cases of incontinence, and 
having compiled two books of statutes, did his best 
to enforce them. The monks, unused to so strict 
a master, grumbled at Wallingford's severity, but 
before his death matters had begun definitely to 
mend. In his later years he even had leisure to turn 
his attention to the cells. The Priory of Redburn 
was completely re-organised, and the government of 
the dependent house of St. Mary de Prez systematised 
for the first time. 

Michael de Mentmore (1335 — 1349), who succeeded 
Richard Wallingford as abbot, continued the work 
of reform on the lines laid down by his predecessor, 
devoting much attention to the cells. He did what 
he could to make the life of the leper brethren of 
St. Julian more tolerable, and drew up a new rule 
for the nuns of Sopwell. A peculiar interest attaches 
to the rule of this Michael Mentmore. His local 
effort towards reform came into contact with the 
wider attempt of Pope Benedict XII to improve the 
Benedictine Order. With the increasing lethargy of 
the Black Monks, the intervals between General 
Chapters had grovv^n greater and greater. Bene- 
dict XII abolished the two provinces into which 
hitherto the English Benedictines had been divided 
and revived triennial General Chapters meeting at 


Northampton. To Abbot Michael, significantly 
enough, the Pope entrusted the execution of these 
measures. The abbot entered heartily into the work, 
exhorting and encouraging individuals and actively 
helping in the restoration of religion in places where 
it had altogether decayed. 

Thus when Abbot Michael, having been struck 
down by the Black Death, was succeeded by Thomas 

^^ ... de la Mare, the foundations of reform 

The Abbacy ' 

of Thomas had been laid. It fell to the lot of the 
new abbot to complete and adorn the 
work begun by his predecessors. 

Thomas de la Mare, who ruled the Abbey for 
almost fifty years, has perhaps left a deeper mark 
on the history of St. Albans than any other abbot. 
He was no mere political prelate. For his age he 
was what would be called a good man; but before 
all things he was an able administrator and a stem 
though just ruler. Indefatigable in upholding the 
convent's rights against every outside power, he 
knew no compromise in his exaction of full obedience 
from all within the House. To his biographer, 
credulity, the employment of unworthy officers and 
his lavish outlay as President of General Chapters 
were the only flaws in an otherwise perfect character. 
No censure is passed upon his craftiness in evading 
the Statute of Mortmain, nor are certain acts of 
crude revenge adversely commented upon. Besides 
supreme ability, he certainly possessed an exceptional 
personality, and towards the close of his life was 


regarded almost as a saint by the brethren.^ The 
greatest of the later abbots, he has perhaps suffered 
unduly at the hands of his editor, who conceived of 
him only ' as that most litigious of abbots . . . 
Thomas de la Mare/^ His tenants do not appear to 
have looked upon him as a tyrant. The orderly 
character of the revolt of 1381 at St. Albans was in 
marked contrast with the scenes of pillage and 
murder at Bury St. Edmunds. The St. Albans 
tenants rose to assert their rights — the men of Bury 
to avenge their wrongs. 

Abbot Thomas displayed an astonishing activity 
in every department of monastic life. The church 
services were entirely revised, and particular care was 
bestowed upon the singing, for the regulation of 
which the Abbot drew up a new ordinal. A series 
of practical reforms followed; in monastery and 
cells the discipline was more strictly enforced. The 
general raising of the monastic standard was exem- 
plified by his refusal to admit illiterate nuns into the 
house of St. Mary de Prez, and by his careful 
provisions regulating the duties of the Benedictine 
students at Oxford. At first, indeed, the rigidness 
of his discipline caused many of the monks to 
grumble, and some even to secede. But his method 
was effective. Before long the Abbey grew famous, 
not only in England, but on the Continent, and 
monks were often sent to St. Albans to be trained in 
monastic discipline for the benefit of their own 

^ Gesta Ahbatum III, pp. 396-423. ^ Gesta Abbatum III, p. x. 


The position of St. Albans as the premier Bene- 
dictine house was recognised by the election of the 
Abbot as president of the successive General 
Chapters at Northampton. In these assemblies De la 
Mare issued a comprehensive series of constitutions 
on the discipline of the Order. Looking to the 
future of learning, he directed every abbot and 
prior to maintain at Gloucester Hall* (Oxford) a 
number of students proportionate to the size of his 
house. He himself supported many more students 
than the number of his monks required. Edward 
HTs commission to the Abbot to visit all the monas- 
teries in the King's presentation is a striking tribute 
to his thoroughness. A visitation of Abbot Thomas 
was far from being a mere formality, and shed a 
valuable sidelight on the condition of many a great 
abbey. ^ * In them,' says the chronicler, * religion 
had well-nigh disappeared.' The proper conduct of 
the monastic rule had been forgotten, and serious 
abuses were rife. At the Abbeys of Eynsham, 
Abingdon and Battle, De la Mare worked wonders of 
reform ; at Reading he composed differences between 
the Abbot and the monks who had practically risen 
in rebellion; at Chester he took the extreme step of 
deposing the Abbot. For these services he was 

* St. Albans probably kept a ' studium * at Gloucester Hall 
from 1337. De ia Mare, John Moote, Hethworth and Whetham- 
stede were all considerable benefactors of the College, among their 
gifts being a chapel, library, and the rebuilding of the old wooden 
house in stone. For the relations of the Abbey and Gloucester 
Hall, see Daniel and Barker's History of Worcester College, 
chapter iii. 

* Gesta Abbatum U, 406. 


made a Privy Councillor, and henceforth stood in 
high favour with Edward III. St. Albans, in fact, 
was at the height of its reputation. The story 
seriously told in the chronicle of De la Mare, in a 
moment of despondency, only being dissuaded from 
resigning his abbacy by the repeated supplications 
of King John of France^ and the Black Prince suffi- 
ciently illustrates his social eminence. As for the 
Abbey, it even eclipsed its old rival, the Abbey of 
Westminster. It was in vain the Abbot of West- 
minster claimed the first seat among the abbots in 
Parliament. So long as de la Mare lived, that seat 
was occupied by the more important, more brilliant 
figure of the Abbot of St. Albans. 

Its inability to resist kingly and papal extortion 
during the thirteenth century left the Abbey in a 
state of miserable poverty. Financial comfort could 
„ , be restored only by regulating these exac- 

of the tions. This the abbots appear to have 
realised, and John of Berkhampstead's 
(1290 — 1 301) new arrangement^ with the King is the 
first step towards a remedy of the evil. The existing 
debt was cancelled, and the Abbey secured possession 
of the revenues during a vacancy in return for a pay- 
ment of 1,000 marks. Any advantage which this 
exclusion of the King's escheator might have con- 

^ Living in England in captivity. He was a close friend of 
the Abbot, and spent much of his time at St. Albans. 

^ The need of it had long been felt : the privilege had, in fact, 
been bought in two particular cases, viz., in 1235 for 300 marks, 
and in 1260 for 600 marks. The figures (as well as the new ar- 
rangement to pay 1000 marks in the future) indicate the growth 
of governmental extortion. 


ferred upon the Abbey was nullified by the unhappy 
occurrence of no less than five vacancies between 
1290 and 1349. Each of these involved not only the 
payment of 1000 marks to the King", but a far more 
serious expenditure to secure papal confirmation. 
The financial embarrassment of the House surely 
increased.^ As a result of a special appeal to the 
Pope, Abbot Hugh secured a licence to receive 
special subsidies from the cells in order to lighten 
the debt.^ But from papal exactions there was no 
escape. In vain the Abbot begged to be excused 
from personal attendance at the Curia. His presence 
was insisted on; the usual enormous fees were 
exacted, and a licence to contract a loan to meet the 
expense thus incurred was the only relief afforded 
him.' Abbot Hugh early became a favourite of 
Edward H, and the King's lavish endowments might 
well have served to repair the Abbey's fortunes but 
for the extensive building operations which were 
necessary. The church fabric was in a ruinous con- 
dition; walls were falling and roofs tumbling in, and 
Abbot Hugh had little choice but to restore the south 
side of the church. Small wonder that the debt 
which was 2,300 marks in 1308 was more than 
double that sum twenty years later. 
At the accession of Richard Wallingford the 

* The almost chronic dearth at St. Albans in the early fourteenth 
century was a further misfortune. In 13 14 the price of provisions 
in the town was excessive, and Edward endeavoured to fix it by 
Ordinance {Trokelowe, p. 89). 

' Cal. Papal Registers : Papal Letters 11, 1305-1342, p. 75. 

' Cal. Papal Registers : Papal Letters II, 1305-1342, p. 75. 


Abbey's condition attracted the notice of the Crown, 
and a commission was appointed^ in 1327 to ' inquire 
by whose negligence the existing defects and dissi- 
pation of the Abbey's revenues had been brought 
about/ Two years later (perhaps as a result of the 
commission) Abbot Richard received permission to 
live abroad for three years ' to avoid the burden of 
too great expense.'^ In this unsatisfactory condition 
the Abbey finances remained till 1349, when the 
Black Death visited St. Albans with unusual severity. 
Abbot Michael and three-fourths of the convent 
perished, and there is little doubt that the mortality 
among the Abbey's tenants was high.^ This catas- 
trophe must have further impoverished the Abbey, 
and the 1000 marks due to the King on de la Mare's 
accession could only be paid by instalments.* 

De la Mare realised that the payment to King and 

Pope of large sums at irregular intervals was fatal 

to any organisation of the Abbey's finances, and to 

^. ^. . , him is due the credit of having con- 

The Financial ^ ° 

Measures of ceived the more workable system of 
annual contributions. Soon after the 
outbreak of the Great Schism, a petition was ad- 
dressed to the Pope, supported by commendatory 

^ Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1327-1^30, p. 84. 

^ Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1327-1330, p. 362. 

^ Gesta Abbatum III, p. 147, ' per epidemias hominum et 
mortalitatem bestiarum facultates monasterii redditae sunt exiles.' 
Also Walsingham, Hist. Ang. I, 273. ' At that time,' says Wal- 
singham, ' villages formerly very populous were bereft of inhabi- 
tants, and so thickly did the plague lay them low that there 
scarcely survived enough to bury the dead . . . Many were of 
opinion that scarce a tenth of the population survived.' 

* Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1348-1350, p. 476. 


letters from the King, John of Gaunt, Princess 
Joanna, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The 
Abbot prayed that in return for an annual payment 
of twenty marks the election of succeeding abbots 
should receive confirmation without their personal 
attendance at Rome.* 

The arguments which the envoys to Rome were to 
employ in the hope of winning the Pope's consent 
to the proposed measure show clearly the difficulties 
of the Abbey at this time. The whole annual revenue 
had fallen to £1,053.^ Of this, £465 was assigned to 
the Abbot — * and to the said Abbot pertains the 
entertainment of noble guests and of all laymen, and 
the prosecution of pleas in the various royal courts; 
which, inasmuch as laymen are more hostile to monks 
than they were wont, are more expensive than 
formerly, and also occur more frequently.' The 
remaining £600 was considered inadequate for the 
maintenance of the convent. 

An objection to this plea of poverty, vis., that the 
Abbey was really much richer than it represented, 
owing to the existence of its numerous cells, was 
anticipated. The cells were said to be a charge on 
the mother house, which at its own expense was 
continually involved in litigation on their behalf. 

Hospitality, it appeared, was the greatest burden 
the Monastery had to bear. ' Also the Lord Pope 
is to be informed that the Monastery of St. Albans 

' Gesta Abbatum III. p. 146. A minor demand was liberty for 
the abbot-elect to receive benediction at the hand of whatever 
bishop he chose. 

' Gesta Abbatum III, p. 148. Summa taxae omnium bonorum. 


is near London, where the King's Parliaments, Con- 
vocation, and other assemblies of nobles and clergy 
are held. And the nobles and magnates of the 
realm, both on their journey there and on their 
return, are entertained at the Abbey, to its great 
expense and loss.' The deamess of provisions, 
owing to the proximity of rich neighbours, had also 
helped to impoverish the Abbey, and finally, the 
partial felling of its woods to pay its debts to the 
King and Roman Court had diminished a former 
source of income. 

At this time the Pope stood in great need of Eng- 
lish support, and might therefore have been expected 
readily to grant Abbot Thomas's requests. Yet the 
desired privileges were secured only by lavish bribery 
among court officials. William le Strete, one of the 
Abbey's proctors at Rome, writes to the Abbot^ : 
' And I hope that the business will come to a good 
end; but I do not know it at all for certain, seeing 
that the Pope is very capricious.' He goes on to say 
that the Pope has not yet read a single letter from 
the Abbot, ' and be pleased to know that your busi- 
ness cannot be carried out here through letters from 
anyone, but only through money.' Negotiations 
were continued until 1396. In that year Richard II 
addressed a further appeal to Boniface IX : * Whereas 
. . . the Monastery of St. Albans^,' he wrote, * . . . 
has its means grievously diminished by the heavy 
expenses of the visits of the abbots-elect to tne 

^ Gesta Abbatum III, p. 171. 

* Cal. Papal Letters IV. p. 293. Sep., 1396. 


Apostolic See to obtain confirmation and benedic- 
tion .... It is situate in the uttermost parts of 
the earth, and is in comparison with other monas- 
teries of the realm over slenderly endowed, and that 
too in a barren place; whereas therein beyond the 
other monasteries of the realm the highest devotion, 
regular discipline and daily hospitality flourishes; 
whereas if each abbot-elect were bound to make such 
visit the number of monks would be minished, their 
devotion chilled, and hospitality be not observed . . .' 
This letter had the desired effect, and the Abbot's 
petition was granted forthwith.^ 

The weakness of the central power during Richard 
II's minority had offered a favourable opportunity 
for making a similar arrangement with the Crown. 
In lieu of a payment of i,0G0 marks in each vacancy, 
Abbot Thomas had induced the Government to accept 
an annual tribute of fifty marks. ^ 

Half a century earlier such measures might have 
completely restored the Abbey's finances, and even 
during the fifteenth century they sensibly lessened 
its embarrassment. More they could not do, for the 
decay of the economic system was to make prosperity 

' The grant of the same privilege to the Abbey of Evesham in 
1363 was used as a strong argument by de la Mare during nego- 

' Gesta Abbatum III, p. 143. In 1396, Bury St. Edmunds 
made a similar arrangement, the annual payment being fixed at 
jC-^o (Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1396-99, p. 21). About a year later, follow- 
ing the example of St. Albans, Abbot Cratfield, of Bury St. Ed- 
munds, made an agreement with Boniface IX identical with that 
of de la Mare (Cal. Pat. RolU, 1396-99, p. 406). 


Although the Abbot was a lay magnate as well 

as a spiritual peer, it is remarkable how seldom the 

Monastery was involved in political and party strife. 

The current of life in the cloister 

Political Attitude , , • i , . i i 

of Abbot and but rarely mmgled with the stream 

fXcentu/^^ of national life. Occasionally a 
great noble, like Henry Beaufort, 
Bishop of Lincoln, might be the Abbot's enemy, and 
try to do him hurt; more often the Abbey enjoyed 
the favour of nobles of all parties, of Yorkist as of 
Lancastrian kings, and in return offered indis- 
criminate hospitality. Such an attitude tended to 
deprive the Abbey of all political or party value. A 
natural bias, it should perhaps be added, was dis- 
played in favour of the King, upon whose goodwill 
the prosperity of the House in large measure 
depended. Abbot Hugh of Eversdon, for instance, 
was one of Edward IPs 'court party,' and was 
richly endowed by that King. Again, Abbot Thomas 
was a close friend and supporter of Edward HI, 
as also of the Black Prince. But this attitude was 
after all little more than the loyalty which they owed 
to the King. Their support did not extend to party 
quarrels, to ' loving those whom he loved, and 
shewing enmity towards such as were his enemies.' 

This detached political attitude is one reason why 
monastic chronicles are often so intolerably dull. 
Yet politics were as keen and as absorbing in the 
Middle Ages as they are now, and monks and Abbot 
must have followed their course, and criticised the 
actors, with as much freedom as the men of to-day, 


In favour of St. Albans it must be said that, in com- 
parison with other monasteries, its chronicles are 
singularly living and human. In those written 
during the revival of historical writing under the 
guidance of Thomas Walsingham, the political sym- 
pathies of the convent during the critical period of 
Richard II's reign are fully revealed. 

Towards Richard II their feelings were hostile, if 
not contemptuous. Walsingham, in his history of 
the reign, describes with unction the King's childish 
behaviour during his fits of ungovernable anger,* 
his violent words on more than one occasion to his 
Parliaments, and his absurd extravagance in dress. 
With righteous indignation he relates how Richard, 
on his way to London, borrowed from the monas- 
tery a palfrey, which he never returned. Another 
chronicler tells with scorn of the King's visit to 
the Abbey in 1394, when large concessions were 
promised, but never fulfilled.^ De la Mare's 
successor, John Moote, was apparently on equally 
indifferent terms with the King. ' This Abbot,' says 
the chronicler, * gave to King Richard for the pur- 
pose of preserving his good will and avoiding his 
malice, at different times, one hundred and twenty-six 
pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence.'* 

The attitude of the convent towards Richard II 

* He tells, for instance, how in 1384, in the midst of an argu- 
ment with the Duke of Lancaster, he threw his shoes and cap 
through the window. In 1387 a judge made difficulties about 
signing a document presented to him. His son said, according to 
Walsingham, that his father was knocked down and kicked as 
he lay. 

' Trokelowe, p. 167. ' Gesta AhbtUum III, Ixxii. 


seems reasonable enough. The King, although he 
conferred more than one benefit upon St. Albans, 
does not appear to have cherished any affection for 
the Abbey. He was rather ' an especial favourer and 
promoter of Westminster,* whose interests he con- 
sistently supported in the disputes of the reign 
between the two houses concerning Parliamentary 
precedence. More difficult of explanation are the 
feelings St. Albans entertained towards John of 
Gaunt. A contemporary manuscript — called, on ac- 
count of its bitterness, the ' Scandalous Chronicle '^ — 
reveals the existence of strong hostility towards him, 
and repeatedly speaks of him in most abusive terms. 
In the early years of the fifteenth century, when the 
' Scandalous Chronicle ' was utilised for a new edition 
of the history of the time,^ the worst of the slighting 
references to John of Gaunt were erased and the 
remarks generally toned down, while in the margin 
of the MSS. is inserted cave quia offendiculum. 
Plainly it was unwise to have such remarks about 
the father of the living King, and so the * Scandalous 
Chronicle ' was suppressed at the place where it was 
written.^ Many motives may be attributed to the 
Abbey for its hostile attitude towards John of Gaunt. 
It had private grievances; the Abbot, for instance, 
had resented (though he feared to refuse) Lancaster's 

^ The chronicle has survived in two forms, viz.. Cotton MSS., 
Otho Cii (British Museum), and Bodleian MSS. 316 ff, 150-1, plus 
Harleian MSS. 6434. It has been printed in Chtonicon Angliae 
(Rolls Series). 

^ The Royal MSS. E. ix (B.M.)— the basis of Walsingham's His- 
toria Anglicana. 

^ See Maunde Thompson. Intro, to Chronicon Angliae (Rolls 


demand for large supplies of timber for his castle 
at Hertford.^ Another reason, doubtless, was the 
Duke's patronage of the * Arch-heretic ' Wyclifife, 
whom the Abbot and convent regarded with peculiar 
loathing. But the main cause of their hostility 
towards John of Gaunt sprang almost certainly from 
his political action. From 1377 to 1386 Lancaster 
was most unpopular with almost all classes.^ The 
many misfortunes of these years — the French raids 
on the south coast, the failure of the English arms 
in France and Flanders, and even the unsuccessful 
government at home — were laid to his charge. 
From the Historia Anglicana it is evident that the 
monks shared this common attitude towards John 
of Gaunt. Again and again responsibility for failure 
is attributed to him, and he is branded as an incom- 
petent general and a disloyal, scheming and un- 
successful politician. It is rather startling to find, 
however, that outwardly the most friendly relations 
were maintained between the Duke and the Abbey, 
while simultaneously such abuse was heaped upon 
him in its official chronicles. The Duke acted con- 
tinuously as a patron of the Abbey, and conferred 
a long list of benefits upon it.* Evidently he was 
unaware of the secret sentiments of the House which 
he patronised so liberally.* 

* Historia Anglicana I, p. 339. 

' The peasant armies in 1381 arc said to have taken as their 
crv : 'We will have no King named John.' 

* See Armitage Smith, John of Gaunt, pp. 169-171. 

* This is sufficient proof — if proof were needed — of the * indepen- 
dence * of English chroniclers, i.e., they did not merely write what 
they were told. 


A growing movement towards reform and revival 
was thus the main trend of events at St. Albans 
during the fourteenth century. The persistent 

Revival during ^^^^^s of Maryns and the other 

de la Mare's short-lived abbots removed abuses 
^^^' and restored the discipline. The 

long abbacy of Thomas de la Mare was marked 
by able administration, and minute and unflagging 
attention to the monastery's interests. The Abbot 
shirked no contest to retain or regain lands, services 
or jurisdiction upon which the Abbey had just 
claims. His rule was necessarily marked by con- 
stant litigation with high and low, from which, in a 
great majority of cases, he emerged successful. 
This great labour, the details of which fill the 
chronicles of his abbacy, had the effect of restoring 
in some measure the Abbey's material prosperity. 
Finally, by his statesmanlike measures with regard 
to future vacancies he had done all in his power 
to ensure the permanence of his work of financial 

The effect of lessening the pressure of outside 
circumstances and rendering more safe and easy the 
existence of the Abbey was to promote a mild 
revival which bore its best fruits in a 
Wrfdng.^^ new outburst of historical writing. The 
golden age of St. Albans' historical com- 
position had been the early thirteenth century, and 
was associated with the names of Roger Wendover 
and Matthew Paris. Then it was that the St. Albans 
School grew famous. Its MSS. were frequently lent 


to Other houses for the writing up of their own 
chronicles/ and when official information was re- 
quired on a point of history it became usual to refer 
to the St. Albans chronicles.^ With so long a 
tradition of annalistic composition' the Abbey de- 
veloped a variety of script unique in England, and 
experts can identify with considerable certainty the 
products of the St. Albans scriptorium. The com- 
position of history never actually ceased after the 
time of Matthew Paris. The tradition was main- 
tained (though perhaps it languished somewhat) by 
the writings of Rishanger, Trokelowe and Blane- 
forde. At the close of the fourteenth century 
occurred the valuable revival under the guidance of 
Thomas of Walsingham. The years 1370 and 1420 
mark roughly the limits within which it fell. The 
amount of work produced was considerable, and in 
quality was hardly inferior to that of the thirteenth 
century. From an historical point of view it is 

* Tout. Polit. Hist, of England, 1216-1377, p. 452 : * The monks 
were jealously proud of their library to which almost every abbot 
found it expedient to contribute largely.' In 1326 there was great 
indignation when Abbot Richard gave or sold nearly forty volumes 
to Richard de Bury, a famous lover of books, to promote the 
interests of the abbot at Court. The incident was not forgotten, 
and after de Bury's death the books were bought back by the 
new abbot. 

' E.g. Higden's Polychronicon, viii. 278. 

* The Scriptorium had been founded by Abbot Paul, circa 1077. 
Owing to the ignorance of his own monks he was compelled to 
fill it with hired scribes. Towards the end of the twelfth century 
a * historiographer ' was appointed, and from that time the 
systematic compilation of annals may be taken to date. From 
the peculiar character of the St. Albans script Sir T. DufiTus 
Hardy concluded that Matthew Paris learnt the art of writing 
from a foreign schoolmaster. See Catalogue : Materials for His- 
tory of Great Britain and Ireland III. xxv, xxxiv, cxxiii. 


probably more important, since by Walsingham's 
time other sources of chronicle writings were be- 
ginning to fail.^ 

In its revival under De la Mare, St. Albans was 
almost unique among the English abbeys; in no 
other case was there any movement comparable 

with it. Yet there is a grave 
MoSr/dsS"' danger of overrating the signifi- 

cance of De la Mare's abbacy. The 
monastic system cannot be said to have been re- 
invigorated nor primitive fervour restored. The 
revival was confined within narrow limits, and, 
on the whole, its fruits were small. It was, how- 
ever, sufficient to blunt the edge of much of the 
contemporary criticism which in the fourteenth cen- 
tury was being applied to the monastic system. 
Chaucer, for example, in his Prologue, described 
for all time the typical monk of his day — 

A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrye, 

an out-rydere, that lovede venerye ; 

A manly man, to been an abbot able. 

Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable : 

and, when he rood, men mighte his brydel here 

Ginglen in a whistling wynd as clere 

And eek as loude as doth the Chapel-belle, 

Ther as this lord was keper of the celle 

The reule of Seint Maure or of Seint Beneit, 

By-cause that it was old and somdel streit, 

^ The same epoch left its impress upon the Abbey fabric. Much 
of it was rebuilt by Abbot Thomas, though unfortunately lapse 
of time and the restoration by Lord Grimthorpe's munificence 
have left little except the great Abbey gateway. Some stained 
glass, wall-paintings and a rood screen of this date still remain, 
and in Abbot Whethamstede's chapel there is a beautiful brass 
of De la Mare, 


This ilke monk leet olde thinges pace 
And held after the newe world the space. 

. . . therfor he was a frlcasour aright 
Grehoundcs he hadde, as swifte as fowel in flight. 
Of pricking and of hunting for the hare 
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare 

His head was balled, that shoon as any glas 
And eek his face, as he hadde been anoint. 
He was a lord ful fat and in good point 

He was nat pale as a for-pyned goost 
A fat swan loved he best of any roost. ^ 

But Chaucer's satire, once so true,^ was a spent 
shot in De la Mare's time. 

There was other contemporary criticism which 
was perhaps harder to meet. Langland looked for- 
ward with certainty to the time when the monastic 
system should be destroyed — * shall have knock of 
a king and incurable the wound.' The criticism of 
WyclifiFe was more severe. His rejection of the 
Pope, with whose interests fhose of the exempt 
monasteries were bound up, his doctrine of evan- 
gelical poverty, and the practical proposal that the 
Government should disendow a delinquent church 
undermined the very foundations of monasticism. 
Wycliffe's position rested upon the double argument 
of the decay of the monastic life and the superiority 
of a life lived in the world. Of this contention 
St. Albans could refute only the half. The vicious 
handling which the reformer receives in its chronicles 

* Chaucer : Prologue, &c. (Morris), lines 165-206. 

* Cf. p. 12 ante. 


almost suggests an anticipation of defeat, a tacit 
recognition of the weakness of the writer's position. 
Thomas Walsingham, in his Historia Anglicana, 
dubs him ' Wyk-beUeve' and ' disciple of anti-Christ ' ; 
speaks not of his opinions, but of his ravings 
(deliramenta), and unhesitatingly attributes to his 
inspiration such varied ills as the Peasants' Revolt 
and the profanation of the Sacrament by a Wiltshire 
knight. When he chronicles the death of ' that limb 
of Satan, idol of heretics, mirror of hypocrites and 
fabricator of lies — John Wycliffe,' it is only to repeat 
cruel gossip about his last hours. The life of 
Wycliffe, in fact, marks a fresh step in the growing 
unpopularity of the monastic system, and with a 
sure instinct St. Albans recognised the fact, and so 
far as it was able, dealt with him accordingly. 


The Necessity for Dissolution 



The Necessity for Dissolution. 

It remains for us, taking our stand at the year in 
which the Monastery was dissolved, to survey the 
period that has elapsed since the death of Thomas 
de la Mare. It was a time of stagnation, followed 
by rapid decline. At the end of the fifteenth century 
the Abbey was financially more embarrassed and 
morally even more depraved than in the first years 
of our period. Without attempting a defence either 
of the motives of Henry VIII or the methods of 
the Dissolution, no other conclusion is possible but 
that the abolition of St. Albans was both just and 
necessary. The Abbey had long since outlived its 
useful functions. 

The necessity for the dissolution rests on a two- 
fold argument. There was first, the decay of reli- 
gion, and even morality itself, within the cloister; 
and secondly, there was the decay of the manorial 
system, the economic basis of monasticism. 


(A). Economic History of the Abbey, ISOO-^IBSO. 

A great spirtual peer who as a mitred abbot took 
his place in Parliament among the magnates, the 
Abbot of St. Albans was a no less important per- 
sonage in virtue of his huge landed 
as Landlord, possessions. Indeed, it has never 
been determined whether the right of 
such abbots to sit in the Upper House rested upon 
their spiritual dignity or their position as tenants- 
in-chief and great landlords. The Abbot of St. 
Albans exercised a wide seignorial jurisdiction over 
the Hundred of Cashio from early times, and later, 
over numerous manors in the eastern counties,^ 
monuments to the piety of wealthy donors through 
the centuries. At the commencement of the four- 
teenth century the relations existing between the 
Abbey and its tenants were solely those of the 
manorial system, now fast decaying on all but 
monastic estates. The symmetry of this arrange- 
ment had been broken at an early date by the 
growth of the town at the very gates of the Abbey. 
The townsmen were ruled with the same despotic 
power as the country tenants, from whom they 
differed only in being more concentrated. As in 
the closely parallel case of Bury St. Edmunds, St. 
Albans was governed by a bailiff chosen by the Abbot 

^ Viz. Essex, Hertford, Bedford, Bucks, Cambridge, Kent, 
Middlesex, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Northampton, Berks, Lincoln, and 
in London. 


and holding office during his pleasure; the towns- 
men were tried in the Abbot's court, and offenders 
incarcerated in the monastic prison. The Abbot 
secured the profits arising from his courtV4' the 
court of St. Albans under the ash-tree every three 
Abbe weeks ' — and from fairs, as also the heavy 
and tolls imposed upon all merchandise passing 
°^"* through the town. This antiquated tyranny 
contrasted ill with the wide municipal independence 
enjoyed by other towns. 

There were thus substantial reasons why the 
townsmen should free themselves at the first oppor- 
tunity from the hated tutelage of the Abbey, though 
it must be confessed that their civic disabilities 
weighed less with them than the strict preservation 
of the Lord Abbot's warrens and fish ponds, the 
close fencing in of his estates, and a host of galling 
and antiquated signs of subjection, the chief of 
which was the obligation to full their cloth and 
grind their com at the Abbot's mill. 
/^It was typical of the monastery's conservatism 
that each succeeding abbot refused all concession. 
Discontent culminated in revolt. In 1274, taking 
as their pretext the matter of the Abbot's mill, the 
townsmen inaugurated a mild rebellion by setting 
up hand-mills in their own houses. Abbot Roger 
easily suppressed the rising, and an outbreak in 
13 14, provoked by the tactless, overbearing Hugh 
of Eversdon, collapsed even more ignominiously. 
A more serious disturbance, which broke out in 
1327, was not finally crushed for seven years. 


Taking advantage of the death of Abbot Hugh, 
and the temporary anarchy which followed the 
death of Edward II, the townsmen rose again and 
blockaded the Abbey. The affair was rendered the 
more serious by the existence among the monks 
of a party in league with the malcontents. The 
internal danger was averted by sending away the 
disaffected monks to distant cells, but Abbot William 
was compelled to give verbal consent to the demands 
of the townsmen for a charter embodying the right 
of choosing their own members of Parliament, 
liberty to use handmills, to fish in the Abbey waters, 
and to hunt its preserves, the privilege of executing 
writs without the interference of the bailiff of the 
liberty, and finally, the title of free burgesses.* By 
royal help the Abbot at length crushed the rising; 
the old subjection was once more firmly rivetted 
upon the townsmen, and the Abbey parlour was 
paved with their handmills as a token of their defeat 
and a warning for the future.^ It is significant of 
the cruelty and selfishness of the Abbey that no 
sort of concession was made to the defeated towns- 
men. At this time, as subsequently, the Abbot 
showed himself incapable of appreciating the real 
trend of events. For a moment the Abbey had 
triumphed and all was well. Under the firm rule 

* Gesta Abbatufn II, pp. 157-8. 

' Another small outbreak in 1356 has escaped the notice of 
writers on St. Albans municipal history. See Cal. Pat. Rolls, 
1354-1358, p. 493. It was perhaps as a consequence of this that 
the Convent secured a licence (1357) to crenellate the dwelling- 
place of the Abbey. CaL Pat. Rolls, 1354-1358, p. 574. 


of Thomas de la Mare there was no hope of success 
for an isolated rising, but the outbreak of the 
Peasants' Revolt in 1381 gave the tenants their 
opportunity, and the Abbey reaped the fruit of its 
foolish and short-sighted policy. 

So much for the townsmen. The bulk of the 
Abbot's subjects, however, were country tenants, 
living on his various manors. Under the manorial 
^^ system rural tenants lived in a state of 

Country political and economic subjection to their 
lord. Of such tenants a certain number 
were free labourers, but the large majority were 
boimd to the lord by varying degrees of servile 
tenure. The serfs or villeins divided their time 
between cultivating their own patches of land and 
rendering labour services on that part of the manor 
which was cultivated by the lord or his bailiff for 
the supply of his own granaries. On many of the 
St. Albans manors a small money rent was also 
paid by the serf for his land.* By long tradition, 
though scarcely by law, the villein could not be 
evicted; on the other hand, he was bound to the 
soil, owed many feudal dues to his lord, and so 
many days' work per year on the lord's domain. 
A series of regulations of the close of the thirteenth 
century^ discloses the harsh policy of St. Albans 
with regard to its villeins. Freemen were forbidden 
to buy villein lands; villeins were forbidden to sell 

* Whethamstede II, p. 324-5 ; for such services the villein com- 
monly received besides his food a small wage. 
■ Gesta Abbatum I, p. 453-455. 


to anyone either lands or produce;* money payments 
and labour services were rigorously exacted, and 
the huge warrens in possession of the Abbey were 
strictly preserved. The effect of these regulations 
was to prevent the serf increasing his holding, and 
to maintain the distinction between free and unfree 
tenants. By this means alone could the Abbot com- 
bat the general tendency towards fusion of the two 

While the Abbey was thus fighting to continue 
the old tyranny manumissions were becoming fre- 
quent on lay lands, and all over the country labour 
services were being given up in favour of money 
payments. Further, the practice of letting out 
lands in farms to rent-paying tenants was growing 
more general. By diminishing the population the 
Black Death (1349) hastened this process,^ for land- 
lords were compelled to offer high wages to secure 

^ An unusually severe regulation. 

^ It was highly desirable for the Abbot to maintain this dic- 
tinction. In the King's courts the villein had no case against his 
lord save for bodily injury. In practice it appears that the Abbot 
of St. Albans could inflict even bodily injury with impunity. See, 
for instance, the case of Nicholas Tybson, who, having been 
stripped, thrashed and wounded by the Abbot's servants, brought 
an action for redress. The case was at once dismissed as a false 
appeal on the ground that Tybson was the born villein of the 
Abbot (Gesta Ahbatum III, p. 39). 

^ T. W. Page : * End of Villeinage in England ' passim. See, 
too, Petit-Dutaillis' introduction to R6ville, where the views of 
Stubbs and Thorold Rogers on this subject are exploded. The 
period 1349-1381, it is proved, was not marked (as they believed) 
by the reduction to serfdom of men emancipated before the Black 
Death, or the re-assertion on the part of landlords of labour ser- 
vices already commuted for money payments. On the contrary, 
the process of commutation (which had not advanced nearly so 
far by 1349 as Stubbs thought) proceeded at an increasing rate 
after 1349. 


the cultivation of their demesnes, and they had per- 
force to bring in rent-paying tenants to till the 
lands of such of their villeins as had succumbed. 
Nor was the break-up of the old system retarded 
by the Statute of Labourers (1352). The Act, 
which provided that food prices as well as wages 
should remain fixed, was not so much a blow aimed 
at the poorer clases as an attempt to restore the 
state of affairs existing before 1349. The process 
of manumission continued; the numbers of freemen 
steadily increased, and, in spite of the Statute, wages 
and prices rose higher than ever before. This in- 
crease in the numbers of free labourers inspired 
those who were still in villeinage with the ambition 
to become themselves free and to cease rendering 
labour services which, as the token of their servile 
tenure, were regarded as degrading. 

Such were the grievances of the peasants who in 
1381 formed the backbone of the Revolt. The 
unwillingness to allow manumission which has been 
seen to exist towards the end of the thirteenth cen- 
tury at St. Albans, and the harsh provisions made 
to retain labour services, continued in full force.* 
In the case of one manor,- it is true, the two systems 
appear to have existed side by side about 1340, but 

* No manumissions occur in the records until more than a 
generation after the revolt : evidently the old system remained 
unprospcrous but intact at St. Albans in 1381. 

R^ville : Le Soul^ement des Travailleurs d'Angleterte en 1381, 
p. XXV. See also Gesta Ahhatum II, p. 123 and ///, pp. 39-41, 
Whethamstede II, pp. 324 and 333. At the cell of Tynemouth in 
1378 there is no trace of commutation in the manor rolls; the 
old system still exists in its entirety ; see Gibson : History of Tyne- 
mouth, Vol. II, Appendix, p. cxxi. 


the rest of the evidence points to the retention in 
full of the old system both on the St. Albans estates 
and on the estates of its cells. Thus in 1381 the 
rural tenants of St. Albans were ready to join in 
the general revolt. Simultaneously the townsmen 
made a final attempt to win from the Abbot privi- 
leges identical with those demanded in 1327. 

There is little reason to linger over the details of 

the Revolt. The townsmen rose in a body and set 

themselves to destroy all visible tokens of their 

subjection. The fences of the Abbot's 

o?i38r°^^ woods were pulled down, his game was 
killed freely, and a show was made of 
dividing his domain into small individual holdings. 
Many houses were burnt, and the Abbey itself was 
mildly raided; but from first to last there was no 
wish to take life. The leader of the insurgents was 
William Grindcob, who appears to have been some- 
thing of an enthusiast, and the most disinterested 
of all the leaders in this revolt. In compliance with 
his demands the Abbot was compelled to deliver 
up all the Abbey charters, and then to draw up a 
new charter granting to the townsmen (i) rights of 
pasturage on his common, (2) permission to use 
private handmills, (3) entire freedom to hunt and 
fish over the monastic estates, and (4) self-govern- 
ment by freely-elected officials. These were a 
repetition of the demands of 1327, except that in 
the interval the notion of self-government had 
become more clearly defined. 

In spite of the townsmen's boast that they were 


in alliance with the country tenants, the two bodies 
seem to have acted independently. Each had its 
own grievances to redress. Indeed, the country 
tenants were still further divided, but the Abbey was 
powerless to resist even such small bodies as the 
villeins of individual manors. The villeins on most 
of the Hertford manors — Tittenhanger, Northaw, 
Watford, Berkhamstead — marched to the Abbey 
and in a curiously restrained spirit secured charters 
satisfying their various local grievances. The 
tenants of the manor of Redburn, for example, 
extracted charters containing the abolition of serf- 
dom, of villein services (in favour of money rents), 
and also, in common with the townsmen, the rights 
of the chase and of fishing. Those of Rickmans- 
worth obtained all these privileges and the right 
besides of disposing freely of lands and movables; 
and so it was done by most other manors in the 

But the privileges were secured only to be lost 
almost immediately. The King's officers arrived at 
St. Albans, no attempt at resistance was made, and 
the trouble subsided as quickly as it had arisen. 
The fifteen executions that followed (Grindcob being 
the most notable victim and dying finely) were, for 
the age, mild enough retaliation on the part of a 
panic-stricken government. As a matter of course, 
the Abbey was restored in its privileges, and the 
town subjected to it until the Dissolution. 

In this way the Abbey was officially confirmed in 
its retention of an economic system which had be- 


come both unjust and unprofitable. Yet economic 
change was inevitable, and received a grudging re- 
cognition. In 1424 the Abbot secured a papal 
g^^ bulF allowing the Abbey complete freedom 
to let out its lands in farms to rent-paying 
tenants — the system long since in vogue on lay 
estates. Later in the century manumissions of 
bondmen become more and more frequent. At first 
manumission is regarded as a privilege by the serfs, 
and the price paid for it is commonly entered in 
the margin of the document; but gradually examples 
grow more common; no more money entries occur, 
and it seems that the Abbot was only too happy 
* to be rid of the presence of persons who had claims 
upon him as a landowner without any power on 
his part to exact a return to himself of commen- 
surate advantage.'^ Thus the old agricultural 
system slowly broke up, despite the monks who to 
the last retarded the transition to the new order. 

Towards the town the Abbey remained to the last 
unbending, though not on account of any diminu- 
tion in the resentment with which it was regarded 
by the inhabitants. In 1424 a large crowd appeared 
at the gate of the Abbey, armed with swords, to 
demand concessions similar to those of the extorted 
charter of 1381; but they were still cowed by the 
recollection of their late rising, and the affair came 
to nothing.^ The last mention of open resistance 

^ Amundesham I, 163. ^ Whethamstede II. Intro., p. xxxv. 

' A few years earlier Abbot Heyworth had suppressed a similar 
rising at Barnet (Whethamstede I, 451-2). 


occurs in 1455 when John Chertsey erected a private 
mill, and so withdrew com from that of the Abbot. 
To such an act of daring he seems to have been 
inspired by his wife, a woman of spirit. Chertsey, 
however, was a timid creature; his heart failed him, 
and he was induced to make humble apology to the 
Abbot and to destroy the mill. 
A There can be little or no doubt that in the six- 
teenth century monastic lands were far behind lay /s» 
estates in economic development. According to M. 
Savine, the agricultural revolution had scarcely 
affected the lands of the monks at the time of the 
Dissolution.* ' Arable land occupies ... a very 
considerable part of the area that the monks kept in 
their own hands; it was very little, if at all, less 
than the area of the several pastures. As agricul- 
turists the monks carried on a large, or at any rate, 
a fair-sized business. Now if the conversion of 
arable land into pasture land had become general 
under the first two Tudors, then in these thriving 
monastery farms it ought to be in much greater 
evidence than in the small homesteads of the 
peasants, who tilled the land for their own subsis- 
tence, and were fettered on all sides by communal 
regulations.' But that the revolution was in full 
swing on lay estates we know from More's Utopia, 
which was written as early as 15 16.* Even at this 
date agricultiu*e was being widely abandoned by lay 
farmers who were converting what was formerly 

* Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History, Vol. 1, p. 177. 
' See Utopia (Clarendon Press Edition), pp. 13-ao. 


arable into pasture land, the growing woollen 
industry being found more profitable.^ 

To the last St. Albans strove to check economic 
development. At what was perhaps the great crisis 
in its history— the revolt of 1 381— it had definitely 
refused to adapt itself to altered condi- 
tions. By that refusal it ensured its 
economic decay^ and finally its ruin. For while it 
was highly desirable that religion should flourish 
* within the monastery, it was absolutely essential that 
such a huge establishment should rest on a sound 
economic basis if it was to continue. In the sixteenth 
century, or even earlier, this condition was no longer 
fulfilled. It is, however, scarcely a matter for which 
blame attaches to the House. The mediaeval ideal, 
which in one aspect was the monastic ideal^ was 
stability, not progress. St. Albans was identical in 
its attitude with the other great monasteries; it was 
neither more nor less conservative. Its inability, 
rather than its refusal,., to change or admit change 
was its condemnation. V Such a splendid immobility 
has something of grandeur about it. At the same 
time the picture of a town deprived of its * natural 
right of self-government,' and hindered accordingly 
in its prosperity, and of the mass of the Abbey's 
country tenants living unprosperously under an 
antiquated agricultural system, constitutes a crush- 
ing argument for the necessity of its dissolution. 

Mt is unfortunate that the surveys of the Commissioners in 
1535 for Hertford have perished. At the same time the condition 
of monastic estates was wonderfully similar, and St. Albans was 
piobably no exception. 


(B). The Decay oj the Monastic Spirit in the 
16ih century. 

The task of interpreting the Abbey's history 
during the fifteenth century is difficult in the 
extreme. The confusion, the aimlessness which 
St Albans characterised political history are re- 
in the fleeted in the records of St. Albans. 
15th Century. ^itj^Q^gh the material is at least as 
plentiful as before, the impression conveyed by the 
facts is blurred and uncertain. With the death of 
De la Mare the lines of development become 
obscured. The fourteenth century had witnessed a 
steady upward movement culminating in the Abbacy 
of De la Mare. There is a temptation to see in the 
fifteenth century a consistent, growing degeneracy : 
the more as it is beyond question that by the year 
1490 the Convent had sunk into deeper degredation 
than ever before. In one sense such a theory is 
true. The tide of economic decline and growing 
material decrepitude, stemmed by De la Mare's 
careful administration, proceeded unchecked after 
his death. Within the convent the decay of the 
monastic spirit was everywhere apparent. Living 
became inevitably more luxurious, and the religious 
life grew cold and formal.* Yet the reputation of 

^ On the other hand classical learning became more esteemed. 
It is impossible not to see in the florid verses of Whethamstede and 
in his prose (loaded with classical allusion and metaphor) an early 
appearance of the Renaissance spirit in England. Verse and 
prose are alike worthless, but show a striving after something 
better than mediaeval monastic writing. The tendency becomes 


St. Albans was as great in 1460 as in the days 
of Abbot Thomas. Up to 1464 (the year in which 
Whethamstede died) no flagrant abuses appear to 
have invaded the cloister, nor was there any con- 
siderable slackening of the discipline. The problem, 
of which we can offer no adequate solution, is to 
account for the extraordinary rapid decay between 
1464 and 1489, by which time the Abbey had become 
publicly scandalous. The history of these twenty- 
five years is quite obscure. 

The first half of the century was singularly barren 

of incident. The best known Abbot of the time was 

John Whethamstede (circa 1420 — 1440), a famous 

Wh th scholar and churchman. Significantly 

stede's enough he was one of those chosen to 

acy. j-gpj-gggjj^ ^i^Q English nation at the 

Councils of Pavia and Basle. He was popular with 
the convent, perhaps on account of his ardent 

orthodoxy. The singularly bitter attitude adopted 

towards Lollards in de la Mare's time was carefully 

maintained, and Whethamstede, by means of synods 

and commissions, extirpated heresy within the 

Liberty.^ The Abbot was regarded by the monks 

more marked in his work after his visit to Italy in 1423, where he 
was certainly influenced by the early Humanist movement. 

* The town of St. Albans was apparently something of a Lol- 
lard centre. Sir John Oldcastle lay in hiding there, and when in 
141 4 William Murlee (one of his followers) was hanged and burnt, 
the convent firmly believed that he had planned to put them every 
one to death (Walsingham : hist. Angl. II, 298-299). See, too, 
the account of the proceedings at the Synod held by Whethamstede 
in 1429 (Amundesham I, 222-3) • ^^^ commission to put down heresy 
{Amundesham II, 23). The Abbot's bitterness extended to any 
departure from orthodoxy, and Pecock was an object of his special 


as having conferred notable benefits upon them; the 
chief of these were his acquisition of the Priory of 
Pembroke (1439), his generosity to the Abbey's 
students at Oxford and certain financial innovations.* 
To-day, as one digs him out of the very inferior 
chronicle of the time, he seems rather wanting in 
purpose, and somewhat vain and foolish; neverthe- 
less, he certainly had the confidence of the convent, 
who, after his voluntary retirement for some years 
insisted upon re-electing him Abbot in 1452. The 
reason was probably that he was old, experienced, 
and cautious. At the time these qualities were in- 
valuable; the Abbey was acquiring a political sig- 
nificance, and skilful guidance was necessary to 
avoid disaster amid the intrigues of Henry VI's 
reign, which were threatening to culminate in Civil 
War. The second abbacy of Whethamstede, within 
which fell the Wars of the Roses, was therefore an 
anxious and, as it proved, disastrous time for the 

It was maintained by Hallam that the sympathies 
of Abbot Whethamstede were wholly Lancastrian 
during the Wars of the Roses. Riley, after a more 
careful study, affirmed that the reverse was the 
case,^ and without doubt he was nearer the mark 

* E.g. He instituted and endowed * a common chest,' to which 
resort was to be made only at times of great financial necessity. 
He also created the oflfice of * Master of the Works,' to whom he 
assigned regular funds with which the Master was to keep the 
Abbey buildings in repair and put up new structures when 

^ Riley, for instance, thought it probable that Whethamstede 
was the Duke of Gloucester's political adviser, and that his resig- 
nation of the abbacy in 1440 was due to the waning of ' Good Duke 


than Hallam. The great affection consistently dis- 
played for Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (a lavish 
patron of the Abbey), and the attempt in the 
chronicle to clear his memory, in themselves in- 
dicate with which party the Abbot's sympathies lay. 
Further proof is supplied by florid verses, strongly 
Yorkist in tone, from the Abbot's own hand; and 
finally, there is the fact that the Abbey was pillaged 
by the Lancastrian troops in 1461. But the question 
is of the slightest importance.^ As a matter of fact, 
the Abbey enjoyed the full favour of Henry VI. as 
much as of Edward IV; it was only in the actual 
fighting that its political proclivities affected its 

Henry VI was a frequent visitor at St. Albans, 
and bestowed, among many other marks of his 
favour, a notable extension of the franchise. The 
seignorial jurisdiction of the Abbot over the Hun- 
dred of Cashio, which was based on a charter of 
Henry II, had gradually been diminished by the 
encroachments of neighbouring Lords. In 1440 
the King granted a new interpretation of the words 
of Henry II's Charter, by which the Abbot's 

Humphrey's ' popularity before the rising star of Beaufort. 
* When . . . the contending rivals had been alike removed by the 
impartial hand of death, we find him emerging from his com- 
paratively obscure position as a pensioned monk of the Abbey, 
and on the first opportunity attaining the Abbacy once more ' 
(Amundesham II, liv). 

^ 'His (Whethamstede's) counsels,' says Riley, 'seem to have 
been sought with equal eagerness by the two great heads of the 
antagonistic parties of the politics of the times, the intriguing and 
ambitious Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, and his . . . 
nephew, the Duke of Gloucester ' (Amundesham I, xv). 


authority was restored to its full limit, if not ren- 
dered greater than ever before.^ In order to obtain 
such a grant it is obvious that the Abbot must have 
been in high favour with Henry VI, who indeed 
is always mentioned in these chronicles in terms of 

Nevertheless, when in 1455 the Yorkist party 
triumphed at the first battle of St. Albans, only the 
fact that the direction of the Abbey's sympathies 
was well known can have saved it from being 

The continual fighting in its neighbourhood 

reduced the Abbey to dire straits, and the next six 

years were among the darkest in its history. Its 

troubles culminated in the disaster of 1461, 

Battle when, after a Lancastrian victory at the 

^\.^^- second battle of St. Albans, the Northern 

Albans. ' 

troops plundered the Abbey and horribly 
ravaged the surrounding country. The Queen even 
condescended to rob the Abbey of its most precious 
jewels and treasures.^ The result was sheer famine; 
the convent were dispersed, and the Abbot retired 
to his native town. Thus for the only time in its 
history the continuity of conventual life at St. Albans 
was broken. The final triumph of Edward IV in 
the same year ensured such amelioration of the 

' CaL Pat. Rolls, 1436-1441, p. 422. 

* The King is found nevertheless in 1549 spending Easter at the 
Abbey and lavishing gifts upon the Abbot. 

* Whethamstede I, 396. The St. Albans chronicles make a 
valuable contribution to political history for the years 1450-1461. 
For this the coincidence of two decisive battles being fought at 
St. Albans is responsible. 


Abbey's fortunes as was possible. The battle had 
taken place in February, and by November the 
convent had re-assembled, to enter upon the last 
stage of its existence with a fresh grant of privi- 
leges. A complicated jurisdiction, which far ex- 
ceeded the grant of 1440, was bestowed upon the 
Abbey. ^ 

The unsoundness of the Abbey's economic practice 
and the consequent increasing financial embarrass- 
ment were at the root of all its troubles in the fif- 
Hostilit of teenth century. Its poverty weakened 
Bishops in its independence, and was at once the 
15 en ury. ^^^^g^ q£ ^^^ decline of its hospitality 

and the reason for its growing obsequiousness 
toward the great. The bishops especially were quick 
to realise the weakness of the Abbey. ^ Always 
jealous of exempt houses, they exhibited in the 
fifteenth century an unusually bitter hostility to- 
wards St. Albans. In 1399, Henry Bishop of Lin- 
coln had formally notified the Abbot that he claimed 
no jurisdiction over the Abbey^; this was nothing 
more than an acknowledgment of an old and un- 
doubted privilege pertaining to St. Albans as an 
exempt monastery. Only twenty years later, at the 
Council of Pavia, a new Bishop of Lincoln claimed 
full jurisdiction over St. Albans, and called for the 

^ Newcome, p. 374. Clutterbuck : History and Antiquities of 
the County of Hertford I, Appendix I, pp. S^7-4^> ^^^ ^ copy of 
Edward IV 's charter. 

^ For the growth of Episcopal hatred, see Amundesham I, p. 
73-82, 142-195, and 300-408. 

^ Gesta Abhatum III, p. 472. 


reform of exempt houses. This was followed by 
the revival of the Archbishop of Canterbury's claims 
to jurisdiction, but these the Abbot was still strong 
enough to resist. A few years later a dispute con- 
cerning the Bishop of Norwich's jurisdiction over 
the Cell of Binham broadened out into an organised 
attack by the English bishops upon the privileges 
of St. Albans. This was evidently regarded as a 
test case. Exactly how the struggle ended is not 
recorded, but probably it left matters in the old 
uncertain condition. These attempts mark a fresh 
stage in the growing unpopularity of the Abbey, 
and it is worthy of notice that the increasing hatred 
towards exempt houses on the part of the bishops 
might well of itself have led to the fall of the 
monastic system in England. As it was, the support 
of the bishops made it more easy for Henry VIII 
to carry through the Dissolution. 

Even during the fourteenth century there had been 

a natural and almost inevitable growth of luxury 

in the monastic life: in the course of the fifteenth 

D f th ^* progressed by leaps and bounds. 

Monastic Spirit A host of insignificant facts illustrate 

(»39 to H 4)- ^j^g tendency. The food of the novices 

was rendered more sumptuous on the plea that the 

youths had not such strong constitutions as their 

fathers. Papal Bulls were secured remitting fasts, 

and the allowance of spices was doubled. As with 

the convent, so was it with the Abbots themselves. 

William Heyworth (1401 — 1420), who was considered 

so excellent a cleric as to be raised to episcopal 


dignity as Bishop of Lichfield, spent large sums of 
money on the completion of a splendid Abbot's 
mansion at Tittenhanger, contrary, needless to say, 
to all Benedictine precedent. A parallel tendency 
was a perceptible decline of zeal and interest in the 
religious life. In 1428, for instance, owing (as the 
Abbot confessed) to its uselessness, the ancient cell 
of Beaulieu^ was abandoned, and twenty years later 
the Priory of Wymondham, as the result of a trifling 
dispute broke away from the mother house, and was 
erected into an Abbey. The tendency is further 
illustrated by the Constitutions published by Whet- 
hamstede after a formal visitation of the convent.^ 
No gross abuses were discovered, but a certain 
laziness and indifference towards religious services 
and observance was found to have pervaded the 
convent. It was much the same in the cells which 
the Abbot visited a little later. It appeared that 
the monks were lazy, and slept too long; just cor- 
rection for offences had not always been inflicted; 
services were apt to be carried out indifferently, and 
sometimes to be omitted altogether. It was sloth- 
fulness, not positive vice, that had to be fought 
against. A subtle illustration of this is uncon- 
sciously supplied by the chronicler. The Abbot had 
promulgated a set of rigorous constitutions which 
went to the root of the trouble more than was usual; 
but the convent murmured, refused to accept them, 
and finally carried their will against the Abbot; as 
for the Constitutions they became a dead letter. 

^ Amundesham I, 29, 31. ^ Amundesham I, loi. 


When Whethamstede was re-elected in 1452^ he was 
informed that three great defects existed in the 
Monastery. Scarcely one in the Abbey, it appeared, 
could be found competent to teach grammar; there 
were hardly any students from St. Albans at Glou- 
cester Hall; and it was only with difficulty that 
persons could be found prepared to undertake the 
burden of preaching. 

These facts point to a rapid raising of the standard 
of comfort, to growing indifference, and a sad decay 
of the monastic spirit. But in view of the dreadful 
condition of the convent in 1490 it is important to 
observe that they give us no reason to suppose the 
existence of immorality in the cloister or even of 
any serious relaxation of the discipline. 

Abbot Whethamstede's successor was a certain 
William Albon (1464 — 1476), 'who,' says the 
chronicler, ' followed diligently in the footsteps of 
his predecessor. During all the time he was Abbot 
he strove after the good of his Church in things 
temporal and spiritual.'^ His reign and that of 
William Wallingford (1476 — ?i49o) carry us to the 
year 1490, when a letter of Cardinal Morton reveals 
the monastery in a state of utter degradation. The 
decay must be placed entirely between the years 

Abbot ^^7^ ^"^ ^"^9^' ^"^ ^^ ^^ impossible to 
Walling- account for its rapidity. Perhaps it was 
due to the bad influence of William Wal- 
lingford, but the whole matter is not a little mys- 
terious. In 1451 Wallingford is found holding the 

* Whethamstede I, p. 25. ' Whethamstede I, p. 475. 


joint offices of Archdeacon, Cellarer, Bursar, Forester 
and Sub-Cellarer of the Abbey, and in some of these 
offices he was continued during Whethamstede's 
second abbacy (1452— 1464). During this same 
period he was to all intents and purposes convicted 
of having laid hands upon the moneys of the 
previous Abbot. The matter is dealt with at length 
in the chronicle, and in most violent terms Walling- 
ford is accused again and again of habitual perjury.* 
Yet on the death of Whethamstede he was elected 
prior, and in 1476 Abbot. ^ Finally, in an account 
of The Lives and Benefactions of the Later Abbots^ 
he is spoken of in terms of the most extravagant 
praise. On the whole the general impression of this 
difficult character derived from the Chronicle is that 
of a bad man but a vigorous Abbot, who, however 
evil his influence upon the convent, nevertheless 
rendered it important services. The monks, perhaps, 
forgot his vices in their admiration of what was to 
them the first of virtues — his strenuous efforts to 
preserve the independence of the house. For it 
was during his rule that the most determined, 
and, as it proved, successful attacks were made upon 
the Abbey's highly-prized exemption from archi- 
episcopal visitation. 

^ Whethamstede I, XV. 

^ It is a curious circumstance that the folio containing the ac- 
count of his election has been torn out of the register. 

^ MS. Cotton: Nero D.VII (British Museum), folios 25A-48A. 
Whethamstede I, 451. A different MS. from that of his Register 
{viz. MS. Arundel III, College of Arms), which contains the charges 
against him. 


In the register of Wallingford's abbacy there is 

only one indication of the bad turn conventual life 

was taking. This is the record of an enormous 

traffic in patronage, a new and bad 

Ktronige. feature at St. Albans, confined for the 
most part to Wallingford's abbacy.* 
Economically bankrupt, the Monastery was reduced 
at last to bartering the livings in its gift, and even 
to trafficking in the monastic offices.^ In the register 
of William Wallingford there is a long list of entries 
noting the gift by the Abbot to all sorts of im- 
portant persons of the right to present to the next 
vacancy in many of the Abbey's livings. These 
transactions, whether accompanied by a money con- 
sideration or simply to gain the support and protec- 
tion of persons of high rank, indicate a willingness 
on the part of the Abbot to trifle with some of his 
most sacred responsibilities. More sinister still are 
the frequent changes of the vicars in the various 
livings. At Elstree, for example, there were as 
many as nine rectors in sixteen years; at Shephale 
five occur in six years.* 

The case of St. Albans may have been exceptional. 
In the general decay of English monasticism the 
Abbey incurred an unenviable notoriety, which 
indeed still clings to it. But that the English monas- 

* There are a few instances, however, during Albon's rule. 

^ E.g. Office of Seneschal of the Liberty bestowed upon several 
prominent political figures between 1474 and 1482 (see Whetham- 
stede II, xxx). 

' Whethamstede II, xxxii. Riley has examined such cases in 
detail. It appears that even his right of presentation of a Prior 
to the Cell of Tynemouth was alienated by Wallingford. 


teries as a body were in a depraved condition was 
fully realised by the heads of Church and State. In 

1490 Archbishop Morton applied for 
Commision. ^^^ received from Innocent VIII the 

special powers necessary for a visita- 
tion of Cluniac, Cistercian and Premonstratension 
Houses with foreign heads. ^ Armed with the Papal 
commission Morton wrote letters to the heads of 
the various monasteries, in which he imperatively 
called upon them to reform. 

In a letter which he addressed to the Abbot, 
Morton wrote^ : ' It has come to our ears, being at 
once publicly notorious and brought before us on 
the testimony of many witnesses worthy of credit, 
that you the Abbot aforementioned have been of 
long time noted and diffamed, and do yet continue 
so noted, of simony, of usury, of dilapidation and 
waste of goods, revenues and possessions of the said 
monastery and of certain other enormous crimes 
and excesses hereafter written . . . You and certain 
of your fellow monks and brethren . . . have relaxed 
the measure and form of religious life; you have 

^ E.H.R. xxiv. 319-321 : the Bull was promulgated in March, 
1490. Mr. James Gairdner believes the curious omission in the 
Bull of any mention of Benedictine Houses due to the fact that 
there were so few exempt in England. More probably, I think, 
the omission was due to the Pope's unwillingness to reverse a brief 
he had issued less than two months previously. In February, 
1490, at the solicitation of Abbot Wallingford, Innocent Vltl 
had addressed a brief to the Archbishop bidding him defend St. 
Albans against all attacks as an exempt House. Evidently Wal- 
lingford had an inkling of the impending reform and strove to 
anticipate Morton. 

^ Wilkins Concilia III, p. 632 ; the translation is from Froude. 


laid aside the pleasant yoke of contemplation and 
all regular observances, hospitality, alms^ . . . and 
the ancient rule of your order is deserted . . . you 
have dilapidated the common property; you have 
made away v^ith the jewels and the woods to the 
value of 8,000 marks or more.' The letter goes 
on to specify ' the enormous crimes and excesses ' 
in a most complete manner; names and details are 
given in every case, and the Abbot and Thomas 
Sudbury, a monk, are accused of the most disgusting 
offences. The nunneries of Prez and Sop well — cells 
of the Abbey — are stated to be little better than 
brothels. ' The brethren of the Abbey, some of 
whom, as it is reported, are given over to all the 
evil things of the world, neglect the service of God 
altogether. They live with harlots and mistresses 
publicly and continuously within the precincts of the 
monastery and without.' 

The Archbishop adds that he had warned the 
Abbot to cure these abuses before securing the 
papal commission. The Abbot and the Prioresses 
of Prez and Sopwell are strictly enjoined to correct 
these enormities within thirty days, and the Priors 
of the more distant cells within sixty days. Unless 
they comply the Archbishop himself will be com- 
pelled to make a personal visitation and to carry 
out the necessary reforms. 

* In 1484 Waliingford formally allowed Thomas Hethnes, keeper 
of the George Inn, to have a chapel for the celebration of the Mass 
by the Chaplains of ' such great men and nobles and others as 
should be lodging at this hostelry ' ( Whethamstede II. xxxiii ; also 
p. 269), a clear indication of the decline of the one-time famous 


The Abbot, making no attempt to answer the 
charges, instantly appealed to the Pope against the 
authority of the Archbishop to hold a visitation.* 
The Pope consented to prohibit any action on 
Morton's part pending the hearing of the appeal by 
two papal chaplains. Abbot Wallingford must now 
have won his case but for the intervention of 
Henry VII. The combined pleadings of King and 
Archbishop prevailed with the Pope. On July 30th, 
1490, Innocent VIII, without pronouncing on the 
question of exemption, granted special faculties to 
the Archbishop for this particular visitation not- 
withstanding all rights and privileges. And there 
can be little doubt but that the visitation was in due 
course carried out.^ Whether all these charges 
were substantiated we do not know; but it is im- 
possible to doubt that the bulk of them was true. 
St. Albans was too large, too famous a house, and 
too near London, for Morton to have been misled 
by idle rumour. The outcome of Morton's letter 
is unrecorded; probably the reforms were effected, 
though the Abbot, it would appear, was not deposed. 

^ The history of these transactions is taken from an article by 
Mr. Gairdner (E.H.R. xxiv. 319-321) based upon Abbot Gasquet's 
researches in the Papal archives, 

^ Mr. Gairdner gives it as his opinion that the visitation was 
not carried out (see Lollardy and the Reformation, Vol. i, pp. 269- 
272, Vol. Ill, p. xxxi). He bases his view on a passage in the 
St. Albans obit book (Whethamstede I, p. 478), recording a victory 
of Wallingford over the Archbishop. This passage, it appears 
from what follows, was written not later than 1484 (see Whet- 
hamstede I, p. 479), the convent solemnly affixing its seal to the 
narrative under the date * anno domini millesimo quadringentesimo 
octogesimo quarto, die, videlicet, mensis Augusti octava.' Pro- 
bably therefore the account refers to an earlier and unsuccessful 
attempt of the Archbishop to carry out a visitation (see Appendix). 


It is in the Abbey's favour that no further trace of 
immorality is to be found in the history of the fifty 
years of life which lay before it. 

It seems strange that the Abbey should have gone 

on after this shock without a suspicion of coming 

destruction. Such, however, was the case; and even 

Henry VII is found to endow the 

f4^^i539. monastery in return for certain prayers 
for his soul to be rendered * for ever 
and ever.' As late as 1530, indeed, there is men- 
tion of a grant to the Abbey of an annual fair. Of 
these last years a wealth of detail has survived, albeit 
in unlikely places. In 151 1 the House had fallen 
into the King's debt; in 151 5 Abbot Ramrygge, 
Wallingford's successor, refused to pay Peter 
Pence,^ and in 1519 the Prior of Rochester was 
appointed coadjutor to the old Abbot. ^ Monastic 
affairs, it appears, were in complete disorder, and a 
large debt (4,000 marks) had been accumulated. In 
the same year the Prior of Tynemouth was freed 
from the jurisdiction of St. Albans,^ a measure 
which illustrates the enfeebled condition of the 

The first hint of the final catastrophe occurred 
upon the death of Ramrygge in 152 1. By a dis- 
pensation of Adrian VI, Wolsey was commended 
to the vacant abbacy,* the convent apparently 

' Letters and Papers I, No. 71. 

' Letters and Papers. 1519, No. 487. 

^ Letters and Papers, 15 19, No. 510. 

* Letters and Papers, 1531, No. 1843. 


allowing this infringement of its rights without 
protest. Perhaps, as Abbot Gasquet has said, the 
motive for this action was in part a desire to reward 
the cardinal for secular services. If so, it was a 
poor compliment to Wolsey to receive an abbey so 
loaded with debt as to be unable to pay its con- 
tribution to Convocation.^ It is far more likely that 
he secured it, knowing that the House was bankrupt, 
and that strong measures were required to save it.^ 

The death of Wolsey necessitated a fresh election. 
No interference was attempted by Henry VIII, who 
confirmed the convent's choice in the person of 
Robert Catton. It was during his abbacy the 
Visitation of the monasteries was carried out. 

Owing to the disappearance of the Hertfordshire 
surveys, St. Albans can furnish no certain evidence 
upon the numerous questions arising out of the 

e . , T Dissolution.^ Such facts as we have tend 

Social In- 
fluence of to confirm the conclusions of M. Savine.'* 

^^' There is no doubt, for example, that the 

social sympathies of the Abbey were pre-eminently 

aristocratic. Most of the monks do not themselves 

^ Letters and Papers, 1523, No. 3239. 

* Gasquet : Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, p. 27 ; the 
appropriation of the revenues of Prez and Tenby to his colleges 
at Oxford and Ipswich is natural ; the revenues of the suppressed 
houses were too small to have been of any real assistance to St. 

^ Savine : English Monasteries on the Eve of the Dissolution, 
p. 24 (Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History). The surveys 
of six counties are missing from Valor Ecclesiasticus. 

* Ibid, pp. 263-267. Cf. His conclusion that the monks main- 
tained a population not more than four times their own number. 
Abbot Gasquet had stated it to be at least ten times as great. 
Cf., too, Hibbert's The Dissolution of the Monasteries, p. 210. 


appear to have come from the lower strata of society. 
The Abbey bestowed its corrodies for the most part 
upon persons of the well-to-do classes. Moreover, 
a close connection existed between the Abbey and 
the neighbouring gentry, whose sons it had long 
been wont to board and educate. On members of 
the same class many of the lay offices of the monas- 
tery were conferred.^ Even the apparently demo- 
cratic practice of alms-giving was a perfunctory 
duty, a mere compliance with the wishes of donors 
who had in times past liberally endowed the Abbey. 
At a wealthy House like St. Albans, which relied 
so completely on the patronage of the great, it 
could scarcely have been otherwise. 

In fact, evidence compels us to reduce the 
generally accepted estimates of the Abbey's social 
and economic importance. Such social services as it 
did render were chiefly on the side of hospitality 
and education. Of these, hospitality^ — which had 
always been at least as aristocratic as otherwise — 
had seriously diminished by the sixteenth century.^ 
Nevertheless, after the Dissolution this common 
shelter for rich and poor must have been deeply 

The Abbey perhaps did its best work in the sphere 

* E.g. Whethamstede II, xxxi. 

" Cf. Morton's letter to the Abbot, 1490. Whethamstede II, 

* Cf. Morton's letter to the Abbot, 1485 (Whethamstede II. 

* C/. Robert Aske's remarks in 1536 with regard to the blessings 
the abbeys conferred upon the ' poor commons ' (Gasquet's Henry 
VIII and the English Monasteries, p. 225). 


of education; from first to last during our period 
particular care was expended upon the education of 
the monks, within the monastery and at the 
tion.^^" University. The Abbey deserves still 
greater credit for creating and maintaining 
St. Albans Grammar School. The first mention of 
the School occurs in iioo, when it was ruled by a 
secular head master and received fees from scholars. 
In the thirteenth century arose the practice of board- 
ing within the monastery and teaching the sons of 
neighbouring lords; for the future no fees were to 
be received from the sixteen poorest scholars; the 
master was given the rare privilege of excom- 
municating the disobedient, and allowed, after an 
examination, to confer degrees upon the scholars 
after the manner of the Universities. All illicit or 
adulterine schools were to be rooted out of the 
Liberty. Towards the end of the century the Abbey 
began to board and educate a number of poor 
scholars; this custom, as a charity, fell to the 
Almoner, who soon devolved his duties upon a Ser- 
jeant, who, like the schoolmaster, was not a monk. 
The school was thus in no sense * an avenue to the 
monastery ' ; on the contrary, there was an entire 
separation of the school from the Abbey. It was, 
perhaps, for this reason that the institution flourished 
(when the Abbey itself was in decay^ till, by a wide 

^ The printing press generally said to have existed within the 
Abbey was probably set up in the town by an anonymous master 
of the Grammar School about 1480. See an elaborate article in 
the Victoria History of English Counties (Hertford), Vol. 11, pp. 


interpretation of terms, it was dissolved in 1539 
as a part of the Abbey. This continuous interest 
in secular education for four centuries was perhaps 
the best word that could be said for the Abbey at 
the Dissolution.* 

The Visitation of the monasteries was carried out 
by Cromwell, as Vicar-General, in 1535.^ John ap 
Rice, the commissioner at St. Albans, wrote to his 
master : ' At St. Albans we found little although 
there was much to be found. '^ The commissioner 
spoke the simple truth if it was disorder and faction 
to which he referred. In the same year the prior 
and about half of the monks petitioned Sir Francis 
Brian* to save them from their own Abbot, who 
had contracted large debts, had sold the woods 
belonging to the convent, and had compelled the 
convent to affix their seal to transactions of which 
they disapproved, threatening to expel anyone who 
should inform against him. Within a year there 
was civil war within the Abbey, and the same sec- 
tion of the convent wrote a second desperate appeal 

* The school was refounded 1549; probably it never ceased 
actually to exist. 

' Already in 1528 Wolsey had suppressed a number of the 
smaller monasteries, among them the nunnery of St. Mary de 
Prez (on the ground that the inmates did not preserve good dis- 
cipline) and the cell of Pembroke. 

' Adding ' It were well to suppress the nunnery of Sopwell as you 
may see by the comperts ' {Letters and Papers. 1535, No. 661). 
The state of affairs would thus really seem to have been worse 
in the smaller houses than at St. Albans ; but of Binham, on the 
other hand, there is direct evidence that, except that its numbers 
had grown smaller, it was in good condition (Letters and Papers. 
«S34. No. 574). 

* Letters and Papers, 1535, No. 1155. 


to Sir Brian, saying that the Abbot would surely 
take vengeance upon them unless Sir Brian secured 
the appointment of a coadjutor.^ ' Our monastery 
is in much decay and misery/ they confess sadly, 
and their words obtain confirmation from another 
extraordinary incident of that year, the trial of the 
third Prior for making various treasonable remarks, 
as for example, that the King intended to leave only 
four churches in England. Other monks of the 
Abbey had informed against him to ' avoid guilty 
participation/ The result was indecisive, but the 
whole matter is an indication of the complete 
demoralisation of the convent.^ 

By this time it was becoming known to the world 
that St. Albans must fall.^ Robert Catton was 
deprived of the Abbacy in the early days of 1538. 
The convent was induced to renounce its right to 
elect a successor in favour of Thomas Cromwell, 
who appointed a certain Richard Boreman (or 
Stevynache) to the vacancy. According to Abbot 
Gasquet, Boreman was chosen simply to effect a 
voluntary surrender of the Abbey, and it certainly 
is true that in December, 1537, Cromwell's commis- 
sioners had tried in vain to induce Catton to resign 
the Abbey into their hands. He had declared him- 
self ready, they wrote to Cromwell, ' to beg his 
bread all the days of his life rather than surrender, 
although by the confession of the Abbot himself 

^ Letters and Papers, 1536, No, 642. 
2 Letters and Papers, 1536, No. 354. 
^ Letters and Papers, 1537, No. 1209. 


there is just cause of deprivation, not only for 
breaking the King's injunctions, but also for the 
manifest dilapidation, making of shifts, negligent 
administration, and sundry other causes.'^ It seems 
plain, in fact, that Catton's deprivation was in large 
part due to his own misdeeds,^ a conclusion which 
is supported by the fact that Boreman himself was 
soon involved in difficulties with the Government 
which appointed him. He was sent for a time to 
gaol, which is difficult of explanation on the assump- 
tion that he was a Government tool appointed only 
to effect a quiet surrender. Eventually the Act of 
Surrender was signed on December 5th, 1539. Some 
forty signatures were appended, indicating a de- 
crease of one-third in the normal numbers of the 
convent.^ The net monastic income was estimated 
at £2,102, the fourth highest in the Kingdom.* It 
only remained to divide the spoils, which was done 
with astonishing quickness. By the year 1544 every 
acre of the St. Albans estates was disposed of. The 
Abbey buildings were acquired by the townsmen 
(and so saved from destruction) at a cost of £400. 
The history of St. Albans is sufficient proof that 

' Monasticon II, p. 207. 

* From one of his letters to Cromwell it would appear that as 
early as January, 1536, Catton felt his position insecure owing to 
the complaints of his own monks. * Trusts greatly to Cromwell 
his position here being so intrikyd with extreme penury . . . and 
most of all encumbered with an uncourteous flock of brethren * 
{Letters and Papers, 1536, No. 152). 

* The average decline in numbers has been calculated by Savine 
as one-fifth ; so the proportion at St. Albans was high. 

* The three greater were : Canterbury 0^2,423) ; Westminster 
(;^2.409) ; and Glastonbury (;£;'3,3ii) (Savine Appendix, p. 270-288). 


the time is past when we can rest content with 
generalisations about monasticism in the later Middle 
Ages. During the fourteenth century the trend of 
events in the Abbey was entirely contrary to that 
in most English Houses. While they decayed, St. 
Albans revived. A century later it is probable that 
the monasteries as a whole were in a far less de- 
graded condition than St. Albans. Perhaps similarly 
startling differences will be revealed when the his- 
tory of other abbeys has been worked out in detail. 
Many loose generalisations on the subject of the 
monasteries are due to the assumption that decay 
or reform proceeded at an equal pace in different 
abbeys. Froude, for example, sought to trace a 
growing corruption of monasticism from Norman 
times. His view was founded simply on his study 
of St. Albans records, and even here his account 
was worthless. The decadence, the immorality of 
which he spoke was largely confined to the early 
years of the fourteenth century, and the Abbacy of 
William Wallingford (1476— 1490). To see in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a consistent, 
uniform process of decay is largely to misunderstand 
St. Albans' history. 

It is true, nevertheless, that the best days of the 
Abbey were already past at the beginning of the 
fourteenth century. The evolution of modern from 
mediaeval society, which was effected during our 
period, was fatal to monasticism. The country grew 
more and more out of sympathy with the monas- 
teries; amid uncongenial surroundings, St. Albans, 


in common with other abbeys, became increasingly 
unpopular. By its unintelligent conservatism St. 
Albans alienated the sympathies of section after 
section of the community, until at the Dissolution it 
stood well-nigh in isolation. Recent defence of the 
monastic system has failed as completely as Froude's 
indictment. In the Dissolution of St. Albans we 
may not, like Froude, * see the workings of the 
ineffable Being,* but we are no less unable to regret 
it, to look upon it as a great social calamity. 



Appendix : 

See Note ^, p. 60. 

The account of William Wallingford's abbacy 
in the Lives and Benefactions^ . . /is inconsistent 
with all that is known of him from other sources. 
The Abbot is described in a tone of excessive 
admiration which cannot be reconciled with the 
account of him supplied by Morton's letter. In the 
Lives and Benefactions . . ., for instance, he is 
stated to have left the Monastery entirely free of 
debt. This is not only intrinsically improbable, but 
is directly contradicted by Morton's statement. 
Again, it is difficult to imagine any adequate reason 
why the convent should solemnly fix its seal as a 
testimony to the proof of the narrative, especially 
when the Abbot was, as it seems, still living. In- 
deed, considered apart from other evidence, this last 
passage, without explicitly stating it, distinctly 
implies that Wallingford did die in 1484. Doubtless 
the error of Newcome (followed by the editors of 
Dugdale's Monasticon), who states that Wallingford 
died in 1484, is to be explained in this way. 

It may be well, therefore, to repeat that the folio 
of the Register containing the account of Walling- 

^ Whethanutede I, p. 475-479. 


ford's election is missing, having been apparently 
torn from the MS.; that he had been convicted of 
appropriating Abbot Stoke's treasure in 1451; that 
in the ' Register of John Whethamstede ' he is con- 
tinually mentioned in terms of extreme disgust; and 
finally, that the Register of his own abbacy breaks 
off abruptly the year before Morton's Commission. 

In view of these facts we must regard the story 
of his abbacy, as told in the Lives and Benefactions, 
with extreme mistrust. It is not improbable that 
this account was written by a convent fearful of 
offending a tyrannical Abbot; it is by no means 
impossible that the Abbot himself caused the narra- 
tive to be written as an answer to the charges 
contained in Morton's letter. 




FROM 1 291 TO 1539. 

John de Berkhamstede - - 1291 — 1302. 

John de Maryns - - - 1302 — 1308. 

Hugh de Eversdon . - - 1308 — 1326. 

Richard de WalHngford - - 1326 — 1335. 

Michael de Mentmore - - 1335 — 1349. 

Thomas de la Mare - - - 1349 — 1396. 

John Moote _ . _ - 1396 — 1401. 

William Heyworth - - - 1401 — 1420. 

John Whethamstede - - - 1420 — 1440. 

John Stoke _ . _ - 1440 — 1452. 

John Whethamstede (2) - - 1452 — 1464. 

William Albon - - - - 1464 — 1476. 

William Wallingford - - - 1476 — I49i(?). 

John Ramrygge - - - - 1492 — 1521. 

Thomas Wolsey - - - - 1521 — 1530. 

Robert Catton - - - - 1530 — 1538. 

Richard Boreman (Stevynache) 1538 — 1539. 


Chief Authorities. 

A. — Primary [printed]. 

Gesta Abbatum Monasterii St. Albani, 3 vols. Ed. 

H. T. Riley. Rolls Series. 
Historia Anglicana: Thomas Walsingham. 2 vols. 

Ed. H. T. Riley. Rolls Series. 
Johannis de Trokelowe et H. de Blaneforde Chronica 

et Annales. Ed. H. T. Riley. Rolls Series. 
Chronicon Angliae. Ed. E. M. Thompson. Rolls 

John Amundesham: Annales Monasterii S. Albani. 

2 vols. Ed. H. T. Riley. Rolls Series. 
Registrum Abbatiae Johannis Whethamstede. 2 

vols. Ed. H. T. Riley. Rolls Series. 
Calendar of the Patent Rolls (from the beginning of 

the period up to 1485). 
Calendar of the Close Rolls (from the beginning of 

the period up to 1364). 
Calendar of Papal Registers: Papal Letters and 

Papal Petitions. 
Calendar: Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic. 

Ed. Brewer and Gairdner. 1509 — 1545. 
Wilkins : Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae. 

Vol. III. 
Monasticon: Dugdale. Vol.11. 1819. 
Catalogue: Materials for British History. Ed. 

Duffus Hardy. Vol. III. Rolls Series. 


B. — Secondary. 

The History and Antiquities of the County of Hert- 
ford. Robert Clutterbuck. 3 vols. London. 

History of Hertfordshire. J. E. Cussans. 3 vols. 

Historical Antiquities of Hertford. Henry Chauncey. 

The History of the Abbey of St. Albans. Peter 

Newcome. 1795. 
History of the Monastery of Tynemouth. W. S. 

Gibson. 2 vols. 1846-7. 
The Victoria History of the English Counties. 

Hertford. Vol. H. 
Constitutional History. Stubbs. Vol. H. 1906. 
Le Soulevement des Travailleurs d'Angleterre en 

1381 par Andre Reville. Ed. Petit Dutaillis. 

Paris, 1898. 
John of Gaunt. Armitage Smith. 1904. 
An Essay on English Municipal History. James 

Thompson. 1867. 
Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History. Ed. 

Vinogradoff. I. — The English Monasteries on 

the Eve of Oissolution. Savine. 
Henry VUI an3 the English Monasteries. Gasquet. 

Short Studies: Third Series. J. A. Froude. 1877. 

* Annals of an English Abbey.' 


Lollardy and the Reformation. 3 vols. James 

Gairdner. 1908 — 191 1. 
History of England. Froude. Vol.11. 1877. 
The English Historical Review (E.H.R.), Vol. xxiv. 

Among these authorities the material is derived 
primarily from Gesta Abbatum, Vols 11 and iii, 
Annals of John Amundesham, and Register of John 
Whethamstede, 1422 — 1488. Where no authority is 
given for a statement it is from one of these 
volumes. Reference to these for every fact cited 
would have unduly encumbered the essay with 



RETURN TO the circulation desk of any 
University of California Library 
or to the 

Bldg. 400, Richmond Field Station 
University of California 
Richmond, CA 94804-4698 

2-month loans may be renewed by calling 

1-year loans may be recharged by bringing bopks 

to NRLF 
Renewals and recharges may be made 4 days 

prior to due date 


JAN 2 t m\} 


J A N g 3 1 9 90 

■S.'^ptaCfUi Jitney 

JUL 05 

"^ ;EY 



C 2881 I